DADE CITY — Just in time for the holidays, many North Suncoast residents are finding something extra on their December power bills.
Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative has refunded about $14-million in capital credits to its roughly 200,000 customers in a five-county area including Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
The nonprofit, member-owned cooperative refunds the credits each year after paying all its expenses and setting aside a certain amount in reserves.
The credits vary according to how much power customers use and how long they've been members, said Withlacoochee spokesman David Lambert. As an example, he said, his father — a 25-year customer with a $200 monthly power bill — got a credit of about $160.
Local governments are also getting a little help.
Lambert said the cooperative this month returned a $206,000 credit to Pasco County and $138,000 to the Pasco school district. In Hernando County, commissioners were presented with a credit of about $107,000 and the School Board with one of $109,000.
The total credits, $14-million, has been the same for the past two years, he said. Just over a decade ago, that figure was about $5-million.
Given the market and the extreme slowdown in the number of new connections, company officials weren't sure how much would be available for credits this year.
"Because of the economy, we didn't know what it was going to be," Lambert said.
The cooperative cut costs where it could in late 2007 and 2008. For instance, Withlacoochee, through attrition, reduced its staff by 14 positions. The cooperative also decided not to renew about four contracts with companies that were making infrastructure improvements.
Though they got their credits, Withlacoochee customers can expect to see their bills go up next year because of a 4.7 percent rate increase that starts in January.
Still, that's small change compared to Progress Energy customers, who are facing a 25 percent rate hike.
Progress won approval to raise bills to pay for higher 2008 fuel costs and for early costs of its $17-billion nuclear project in Levy County. Consumers, followed by politicians, voiced outrage, and Progress has said it may consider a compromise to help soften the blow.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.